Albany Twp residents express concerns about spotted lanternfly
John Nissen, service forester with the state Bureau of Forestry, Berks County, did not want to spend a lot of time talking about the spotted lanternfly when he recently visited the Kempton Fire Company social hall.
Albany Township Environmental Advisory Council hosted Nissen for a conversation titled “Protecting Your Backyard Trees and Woodlots.”
Still, a packed house of concerned residents, peppered Nissen with a variety of questions about that one pest.
Most wanted to know about the resources, methods and tools they could use to fight this invasive species which somehow originally invaded the commonwealth in a Berks County quarry about five years ago.
The pest has since spread to 14 counties.
The spotted lanternfly and its devastation to Pennsylvania’s crops, plants and trees was the most talked about issue — taking up a majority of the discussion and questions.
The lanternfly is a native of China, Vietnam and India.
“It’s not a fly but a leafhopper with wings. It’s a hitchhiker,” Nissen said. “It jumps on trucks and cars and has spread throughout central and eastern Pennsylvania.”
Residents were not happy to learn the pest is here to stay.
“It’s not going anywhere and it’s already damaging crops and trees,” Nissen said. “It’s been seen on maples (silver and red), and can avoid detection, because its egg masses resemble mud splotches on bark.”
One of the most grievously affected crops is the grape.
“Pennsylvania is fifth in the nation for grape growing,” Nissen stated.
He explained the spotted lanternfly sucks the sap out of the vine and then produces a honeydew which collects mold.
The mold destroys grapes and devastates the wine industry.
“You can’t use or sell moldy grapes, so unfortunately, the industry has to utilize more chemical controls,” Nissen said. “And the lanternflies also like hops [beer making crop].”
Tougher still, as the pest is so new, not enough is known about reliable control strategies.
“Cold weather won’t help,” Nissen said. “We’d have to have prolonged periods of below freezing weather to kill off this pest.”
It’s also spread so quickly, quarantines are no longer effective.
The state is now reaching out to homeowners for help.
The state needs to get rid of the ailanthus plant (also known as the tree of heaven), which seems to be a lanternfly favorite.
The tree of heaven is a weedy shrub seen along roadsides and along tree lines.
One theory is that the plant is central to the life cycle of this pest — it can’t live without it.
Nissen also discussed physical barriers for residents to install on the trees on their property.
A fly trap-like wrapping goes along the base of the tree and the larvae and adults adhere to the sticky paper and die.
But one attendee said this was not a feasible technique since he has more than 70 wooded acres.
Nissen had more bad news along the invasive pest front in the form of the emerald ash borer.
This pest feeds specifically on the ash tree, which comprise 10 percent of the hardwood trees in Pennsylvania.
“The devastation is so bad the Louisville Slugger (baseball bat company) is now using other types of wood,” Nissen stated.
The emerald ash borer eats through the bark and makes tracks throughout the vascular system of the tree, choking off its food supply and the tree dies quickly.
“You can tell die off from EAB, by looking at trees that have their bark flicked off by woodpeckers and the exposed wood has tracks all over it,” Nissen said.
Nissen showed the attendees a piece of ash that had been chomped on by EAB.
While the patterns made by the insect were attractive, the wood is useless.